Sarojini Naidu was born on February 13, 1879, to Aghornath Chattopadhyaya and Varada Sundari in the city of Hyderabad, India.
She began studying at the King’s College of England in 1895. Her childhood love for poetry resulted in the publication of collections of poems including The Golden Threshold (1905), The Birds of Time (1912), and The Broken Wing (1917), written in English but with an Indian ethos. Her poetry earned her the name of “India’s Nightingale.” A strong believer in the philosophy of Brahmo Samaj, Sarojini took the bold step of getting married to Govindarajulu Naidu outside her caste at the age of 19 per the Brahmo Marriage Act (1872). A powerful orator, she gave speeches on themes like the emancipation of women, youth welfare, and nationalism.
Sarojini Naidu plunged into the nationalist movement in 1903 and came into contact with leaders who were fighting for an India free of British colonial rule. Mohandas K. Gandhi and Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866–1915) influenced her political career. At the behest of Gokhale she devoted herself to the cause of Indian nationalism. Naidu met Gandhi in 1914 and became his disciple. During her tour to Great Britain with Gandhi, she criticized colonial rule openly among the British intelligentsia.
Naidu and Gandhi opposed the British government’s Rowlatt Act, enacted in March 1919 to counter Indian protests. She also supported the Indian Home Rule League. Naidu also worked for Hindu-Muslim unity. She became influential in the Indian National Congress (INC) and was elected its delegate to the East African Indian Congress in January 1924. She was elected president of the INC in the Kanpur session of 1925 and was the first woman to become its president. She went to the United States in October 1928 as an emissary of Gandhi, preaching his doctrine of nonviolence. Naidu joined the second civil disobedience movement that had begun in March 1930. She was arrested and released in January of the next year. She went to London along with Gandhi to participate in the Round Table Conference. During the Quit India movement of August 1942 she was imprisoned for 21 months.
After India’s independence on August 15, 1947, Naidu was appointed the governor of Uttar Pradesh. She died on March 2, 1949.
Patit Paban Mishra